Yes, it seems to be the kid-event of the holiday season, and we’ve got the scoop for you. This special fundraiser held annually (for 34 years now, if you can believe it) in December at the always-popular Museum of Life + Science is a hot ticket to get each year.
First things first, tickets are hard to get. In fact, as of right now I believe they are completely sold out (try calling, though, because you never know). Even though the entire train ride is only 30 minutes and multiple trains run throughout the night (10 trains, completely full, per night!!), this event is so popular that tickets go fast. Insider’s tip: if you are a NCMLS member, not only do you reap rewards year-round but you also get advanced sales of tickets to this event each year. Might be worth it.
This is an afterhours event only. The earliest train leaves at 5:20 and the latest leaves at 8:20. You can spend time at the Museum beforehand but your train ticket does not cover admission into the Museum. Train tickets are (at time of this posting) $16 for folks 3 and up. Three and unders are free but they must sit on a adult’s lap. They are strict about this policy, so plan accordingly and remember that this is the kiddie train at the Museum so it’s not huge (read as: my huge 9 month pregnant self was not fitting my toddler on my lap so it was good my husband had a free lap).
While this isn’t the cheapest train ride you’ll ever take, you do get a few extras for your money. Outside the train depot is a huge tent, lit, with space heaters, and tables of activities for kids. There is face painting, a station to make reindeer food, coloring pages, hot chocolate, candy canes handed out by elves, and a craft of some sort (the craft the night we went didn’t work out so well for anyone, so hopefully they are fine tuning the candy cane reindeer ornaments a little as the season wears on).
The train ride itself isn’t long, but it is cute. The train is decorated with lights and some of the trees in the woods are dripping with lights, too. Halfway through the ride the train stops and lo, there is Santa! Santa comes up to each child on the train to talk to them directly (you can not get off the train – which is probably a good idea given the chaos that could ensue). To keep the kids occupied while Santa makes his rounds his friendly elf hands out a coloring book.
On the ride back, we saw Rudolph’s red nose flying through the woods.
This event isn’t going to be an all-night affair for you. We were there for about an hour and felt like that was adequate time to really enjoy it. We went on the first train of the night, too, and by the time we were leaving the lines for the tables under the tents were starting to build. My advice is to pick your train time and what age you think your kids have to be to enjoy this carefully.
There are funnel cakes and corndogs/hot dogs for sale here, as well as other tzotchkes to remind you of your visit. Restrooms, with changing tables, are open. Feel free to bring your stroller in (lots of parents do) and just park it at the train depot when you take the train. But, again, remember that the main Museum is closed during the event.